A Key Ingredient

Once you put aside all of the social media and traditional media
stuff, there are really only two things I write about here. What to
say in an emergency, and what to say before an emergency. I’m trying
to explore what makes us successful pre-emergency communicators and
what makes us successful emergency communicators. A lot of times, I
put forward the idea that being successful before the emergency
makes it more likely that you will be successful during the
emergency. I’m still having difficulty teasing out if good
communicators just are good at what they do or if, by dint of their
pre-emergency communication, have laid the groundwork that facilitates
successful emergency communication.

For all of the “be first, be right, be open,” there is one thing,
though, that seems to underpin both situations: trustworthiness.

A trustworthy communicator is someone that people will listen to and
integrate into their lives before an emergency. And while those folks
tend to be trustworthy in general, they also create an environment
where people can believe them in an emergency and accept their word at
face value. Like I said, it could be one or the other reason, but is
probably some combination of both.

Yesterday, TheFireTracker
passed along an article out of the Wall Street

that I could tell he was smitten with. He rarely gushes, but he did
here, and I can see why. The article was exceptional. While I
encourage you to read the whole thing, here’s a quick rundown of the
five main points:

Show that your interests are the same.

Seems simple enough, but how many times have we heard CEOs publicly
wishing “for their lives back.” Your public needs to know that you’re
working toward a mutually beneficial goal, and for the reasons they
consider to be right. Have goals, “we’re working to…,” and all that.
It goes a long way.

Demonstrate concern for others.

This one is easy. In fact, every single media and public information
trainer out there (even the really bad ones) will tell you that one of
your first statements in an emergency should express empathy. They do
that because it helps build trustworthiness. It shows that you are
concerned about others. Do it.

Deliver on your promises.

If you’re not going to have that fire under control, don’t say it. If
you’re not going to have vaccine ready, don’t say that. For every
promise we make—and break—we lose a bit more credibility. And this one
isn’t just about shoring up before a flood, this is about showing up
to give a promised preparedness talk at the senior center, this is
about following up with a community advocate. If you can prove that
you can deliver brochures on a sunny day, I’m more likely to believe
you’ll deliver sandbags on a rainy day.

Be consistent and honest.

This is another one that media trainers will tell you. If you don’t
know yet, say, “we don’t know yet.” Constantly altering worst-case
scenarios make you look like you’re underplaying a disaster. The Coast
Guard, in a training I attended recently, said that in ship-based oil
spills, they always release the full capacity of the ship to the
media. This is how bad it could be, but we’re working extremely hard
to keep that from happening. And thus, the message is always
consistent and honest. One number, unchanging, grounded in absolute

Communicate frequently, clearly and openly.

Well, if you haven’t heard me say this a million times, you haven’t
been paying attention. The key to a successful communication effort is
communication. Say the same thing a dozen times to make sure new
folks can get caught up. Integrate new developments into your spiel
and repeat them, too. Be open, be honest, and be sure to be available.
It seems like a small thing, but when your agency is understaffed and
overwhelmed, sometimes you forget that just telling the media
something once doesn’t work. Your spokesperson should not be
operational. It’s okay to have operational folks and SMEs do some of
the talking, but when they go back to the response, someone still
needs to be there pushing your messages out.

Like Jay-Z said, “Trust, it’s a word you seldom hear from us.” But in
reality, it may very well be the most important thing.


Mr. Obama Goes To Tumblr

The 2008 Obama Presidential campaign made waves for a number of
reasons, not least of which was their foray into social media. With an
active Twitter account, Facebook page and blog, the Obama campaign
reached levels of electronic “flesh pressing” never before seen.
Social media watchers are anxiously awaiting what’s next from the
campaign, and indeed the other potential candidates during the 2012

This week we may have seen the first new thing. According to
, the
Obama campaign has started a

A what? Tumblr is the hottest new blog
software (which I’ve been pushing some of my posts
) out there. In fact, the New York
Times recently covered the

as it’s collected quite a large following in the fashion industry.

Okay, Jim, now where the heck are you going? Obama, fashion, Tumblr?
What the heck does this have to do with government communication?
Well, very little to do with emergency communication specifically, but
everything to do with improving your relations with your public.
Humanizing your agency. Introducing yourself to your constituents.
Take this quote from the Mashable article about the new site’s goals:

Tumblr has become a go-to platform for publications and organizations looking to show a more human, approachable side. Accordingly, the Barack Obama Tumblr, run by the 2012 election campaign staff, is meant to focus on user submissions, behind-the-scenes shots and grassroots support.

Buried right in the middle there is why this is relevant.
Behind-the-scenes shots. As soon as I read that, I remembered a
monthly fascination I have with the photography of Pete Souza, the
White House’s official photographer. Every month, on Flickr, the
White House publishes some of Mr. Souza’s favorite shots from the
preceding month
. These
photos are rarely arranged affairs. They are quiet moments, private
moments, joyous moments, real moments. They serve to humanize the
Presidency. To tell the day-to-day story about governing a nation. So
few people understand what that means that this peek becomes
invaluable. It turns the Presidency into a man, doing a job. A job
that they’ve never seen nor understood.

Much like your job.

Now, you’ll never get Mr. Souza to snap away for you, but there’s no
reason you couldn’t snap away yourself. Tell the story about your job,
your Department. Done in a behind-the-scenes manner, this could be
your public’s peek into the day-to-day. Not official releases, nor
emergency actions, just real men and women doing a job. A job the
public has never seen nor understood.

Maybe once people understand your daily dedication toward public
safety, they’ll be more apt to listen when you tell them that thing
they need to hear.

Reporting via iPhone

We’ve all heard the rumors/warnings by now. Not only will you, as a PIO, have to contend with the mass media, but you’ll also have a new breed of “citizen journalists” pounding you with questions. (As an aside, I would add hyperlocal journalists to this list of people we’ll have to deal with.)

Armed with the latest pro-sumer grade equipment, now anyone can report on breaking news, we’ve been told. Well, it’s happening, but not like they told you.

I’ve heard in the past about Neal Augenstein, a WTOP radio reporter who has converted his content production process over to his iPhone–completely. You can read all about his setup (from six months ago!) on this guest post he did for PBS MediaShift.

The reason I bring it up now is that he recently held a one-hour webinar on how to report using just a smartphone (which unfortunately I couldn’t be on). Ladies and gents, your early adopters are now reaching your early majority (five points for getting the diffusion of innovations theory in there).

And if you’d like to follow up on Mr. Augenstein’s setup, he’s got a Tumblog dedicated solely to iPhone Reporting.

Interviews via Skype

I’m a huge fan of Skype but I dislike that Skype lacks a built-in recording capability.  In order to record Skype conversations, you must use an outside recording application and here are the best ones I’ve found so far

In the past, I’ve provided evidence that, in emergencies, reporters may use Skype to do interviews (and I’d argue, especially after watching my local news, that Skype interviews are becoming more and more common). This is a nice development because it can be done at one’s desk with a minimal of shuffling people around (and cameras and gear and uploads, etc.).

One potential problem, though, is getting access to the full interview afterwards. Some of us like to hear what we said, either so we can learn about our shortcomings (me) or make sure that the record is straight (probably you). Recently, I came across an article by Curt Finch, writing for Inc. Magazine that describes four tools he’s used to record those interviews that he’s done. Check the link above for more information and happy Skype-ing!

Why Are We So Afraid Of New?

Although “not everybody’s crazy for the zombie campaign,” Daigle thinks it’s getting people to think about emergency preparedness. “If zombies will get that message to them, we’re happy to use them.

This quote, taken from an altogether excellent article describing the history of CDC’s zombie preparedness campaign, bothers me. Not because of Mr. Daigle (he’s a rockstar in my estimation), but because of those he talks about.

“Not everybody’s crazy for the zombie campaign…”


Mr. Daigle and his team wrote a blog post that garnered more than 3 million page views and has spawned an entire outreach campaign. People are high-fiving the CDC all over the place and learning about what they need to get ready for any disaster. For eighty-seven dollars.

Tell me again, why isn’t everyone crazy about this?

Because it’s different? Because we’re staid? Because we don’t do things that way? Because it’s fun (or funny)? Because we’re not treating the subject with the proper respect?

Maybe the “not everybody” that Mr. Daigle is talking about hasn’t seen the state of public health these days, but things aren’t going so well. Many people think we’re boring, staid, overbearing, out of touch conspirators. Our funding is being slashed. Every. Single. Year. Our workforce is getting older and retiring and those positions aren’t being filled.

Heaven forbid we try something different.

So, here’s my request to you. Why are we, in public health specifically, but government generally, so afraid of “new?” We’re the last to pick up best practices, the last to see what industry and the public have been doing successfully for years, and even then delay implementation until we’ve “worked out all of the bugs.”

If you are that guy (or gal), let me know what you think. If you know of someone who is that gal (or guy), ask them and report back. I’d love to hear!

Facebook Page Insights Guide

For folks who are just getting started in setting up a Facebook Page for their agency/organization, or for folks who have one but don’t really know what’s going on with their followers, I present to you: the official Facebook Page Insights Guide. Insights is the Facebook analytics program that lets you see how people are interacting with your Page, who is interacting with your Page and help you learn how to create more engaging content. There have been some changes to how Insights work recently, so get your tips straight from the horse’s mouth (read: not me, Facebook).